Cranage Parish Council v First Secretary of State
|England & Wales
|MR JUSTICE DAVIS
|09 December 2004
| EWHC 2949 (Admin)
|Queen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
|09 December 2004
 EWHC 2949 (Admin)
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
Royal Courts of Justice
MR JUSTICE DAVIS
MR W UPTON (instructed by Lansdownes) appeared on behalf of the CLAIMANTS
MISS N LIEVEN (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the FIRST & SECOND DEFENDANTS
MR W HICKS QC & MR N CAMERON (instructed by Zyda Law Solicitors, Nantwich) appeared on behalf of the THIRD & FOURTH DEFENDANTS
This is a claim, brought pursuant to the provisions of section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 by proceedings issued on 29th June 2004, seeking to quash a decision to grant planning permission contained in a letter dated 19th May 2004. The decision was the joint decision of the First Secretary of State and of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
The decision in question related to a very large area of land, well in excess of at least 200 hectares near Northwich in Cheshire. Most, if not all, of the land is owned by a company called Ineos Chlor Limited (formally ICI Chlor Limited). As is quite widely known, that part of Cheshire is geologically suited to brine and salt extraction which, historically, has taken place there for a very long time indeed; and Ineos Chlor Limited is a major employer in the region, engaged in such activities and other related activities, including the production of chlorine.
An initial planning application having been refused, a revised planning application was lodged by Scottish Power UK PLC on 18th February 2002. The application was for consent with regard to the site in question for "works including drilling of exploratory well and other boreholes, laying of pipelines (water/brine), controlled solution mining of rocksalt to create eight underground cavities for the storage of natural gas, conversion of six existing salt cavities to saturators, laying of natural gas pipelines, construction of above ground gas processing plant, access roads, landscaping and ancillary development at Holford Brinefield".
The application site was almost entirely within the area of Vale Royal Borough Council as local planning authority, although a small element was within the element of Congleton Borough Council, the other relevant local planning authority.
The site in question may broadly be described as rural, although quite near to towns such as Northwich, Middlewich and Knutsford. As the application connoted, there were a number of elements to the consent sought, including drilling and exploratory work; six existing wellheads associated with cavities in existing brine field site were to be converted to saturators; eight boreholes were to be constructed with a view to solution mining over a period of time; brine wellheads would be progressively replaced by gas wellheads; a gas processing plant would be constructed on the site of a disused airfield within the area; in addition, underground pipelines and electric cables were to be laid. Certain other works, including adaptation of an existing pumphouse were also proposed. Perhaps the major feature of the proposed works was the construction of eight huge underground salt cavities for the storage of natural gas. Convenient plans of the proposed works may be found in bundle A at pages 504 and 505. Extensive landscaping works were also proposed. It was asserted, all the same, on behalf of the applicants in evidence lodged in the course of the inquiry, that, of the total planning application site, less than 2 per cent would be developed above ground for the life of the storage projects. The construction works themselves were adjudged to be likely to last some four years.
Although the planning application had its supporters, Ineos Chlor Limited being one of them, it had very many opponents. At all events, Cheshire County Council (the application being considered a county matter) on 21st May 2002 resolved to refuse permission. Its ground of refusal, as revised, was that the scale and extent of the proposed development would be inappropriate within the open countryside and contrary to policy GEN3 of the Cheshire Replacement Structure Plan and policy GS6 of the Vale Royal Borough Local Plan. Against that refusal Scottish Power appealed.
In due course a planning inquiry was held. It lasted over some 19 days during November and December 2002. The appeal was fiercely contested in circumstances of considerable local publicity. I was told that around 5,000 written objections were lodged. Around 20 town and parish councils united to form a grouping called "Councils Against the Plant" and made submissions opposing the application. Local residents also formed a group known as "Residents Against the Plant", also united in opposition to the application. The site was, as has been said, primarily located within the Vale Royal Borough, and the Vale Royal Borough Council also opposed the plan, as did Congleton Borough Council. Much expert and other evidence was adduced at the inquiry.
It is not difficult to imagine or to sympathise with the concerns of the objectors, which concerns were fully deployed before the Inspector. Some were concerned, for example, at what they saw as the despoliation of the countryside at the expense of commercial profit. Some were concerned at the effect on their homes (and the value of their homes) and the effect on their families occasioned by the construction works, estimated, as they were, to last some four years. Some were concerned at the noise, emissions, increased traffic, ecological damage and general disruption that the works would entail. Many expressed grave concerns at the long-term health and safety implications of these vast subterranean natural gas stores. Many objectors would have held all of these concerns.
The principal issues falling for consideration were: (1) the need for the proposed development; (2) the effect of it on the open countryside; (3) health, safety and risk considerations; (4) ecological and conservation matters; (5) traffic matters; and (6) noise and "bad neighbour" issues. There were also issues as to human rights.
The Inspector issued his report (92 pages in length excluding appendices) on 1st May 2003. In preparing his report, the Inspector had had the assistance of advice from an expert technical assessor, whose 263 page report was annexed to the Inspector's report. Both reports would appear to me to be conspicuously thorough. The overall conclusion of the Inspector was that he considered that "the benefits of the proposal would be far outweighed by the disbenefits"; and he recommended to the Secretaries of State that the appeal be dismissed and that planning permission be refused. In the result, by their decision letter dated 19th May 2004, the Secretaries of State disagreed with the Inspector's recommendation. They allowed the appeal of Scottish Power UK PLC, who had also by now been joined as appellants by Scottish Power Gas Limited, and granted planning permission, subject to the conditions annexed.
The four claimants in these proceedings now seek to challenge that decision of the Secretaries of State. The first claimant is Cranage Parish Council, which had been part of the "Councils Against the Plant" group and which had actively participated in the inquiry. The application site lies in part within the area of the Cranage Parish Council.
The second claimant, Mr Bennion, lives and works at Stublach Dairy Farm, Byley. His farm is very close to the proposed gas wellheads and pipes. He is a tenant farmer, his landlord being Ineos Chlor Limited, farming 118 acres or thereabouts, the principal activity being milk production. He took over the tenancy from his father in 1993. The tenancy in question contains a reservation in favour of the landlord for mineral workings and the laying of pipes. Mr Bennion holds great concerns for the health and safety of himself and his family if the works are permitted. Further, he has concerns about the disruption to his home and family life caused by the works; and points out further that his dairy and cattle operations will be greatly impeded and affected whilst the construction works are being carried out, if not after also. Various of his objections are summarised in paragraph 6.36 to 6.38 of the Inspector's report.
The third claimant is Mr Oakley. He lives at Earnshaw House, near to Byley itself. The house was purchased by him and his wife in 2000 primarily for its peaceful location and excellent views. It lies some 500 metres from the site of the proposed gas processing plant and is very close indeed to the site of the proposed high pressure gas pipelines. He expresses concerns about emissions and noise levels during construction and increased traffic and risk from such traffic. He also has expressed very strong concerns indeed as to the health, safety and, in particular, risk considerations arising. In his particular case, it may be noted, the transfer to him of Earnshaw House included a reservation in favour of Ineos Chlor Limited's predecessor in title for mines and minerals and a right to use cavities under the property for, amongst other things, gas storage. Mr Oakley's objections advanced to the Inspector are summarised at paragraphs 6.1 to 6.5 of the Inspector's report.
The fourth claimant is Mrs Worthington, who also lives in Byley. Her principal objection,...
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